Sufficiency: The Surprising Truth

Lynne TwistDecember 30, 2016Money and ValuePerSpectives

Myths and superstitions have power over us only to the extent that we believe them, but when we believe, we live completely under their spell and in that fiction.

Scarcity is a lie, but it has been passed down as truth and with a powerful mythology that demands compliance, and discourages doubt or questioning.

In my work with people across the spectrum of money and resources, I found that it is possible to unpack this set of beliefs and assumptions, this kind of overarching way of seeing life, and get some distance from it, free ourselves from its grip, and see for ourselves — each of us in our own life — whether or not it’s a valid way to live. When we unpack the mind-set of scarcity, we find three central myths that have come to define our relationship with money and block our access to more honest and fulfilling interactions with it.

The first prevailing myth of scarcity is that there’s not enough. There’s not enough to go around. Everyone can’t make it. Somebody’s going to be left out. There’s not enough becomes the reason we do work that brings us down or the reason we do things to each other that we’re not proud of. There’s not enough generates a fear that drives us to make sure that we’re not the person, or our loved ones aren’t the people, who get crushed, marginalized, or left out.

Once we define our world as deficient, the total of our life energy, everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do — particularly with money — becomes an expression of an effort to overcome this sense of lack and the fear of losing to others or being left out. If there’s not enough for everyone, then taking care of yourself and your own, even at others’ expense, seems unfortunate, but unavoidable and somehow valid.

The second toxic myth is that more is better. More of anything is better than what we have. It’s the logical response if you fear there’s not enough. But more is better drives a competitive culture of accumulation, acquisition, and greed that only heightens fears and quickens the pace of the race. And none of it makes life more valuable. In truth, the rush for more distances us from experiencing the deeper value of what we acquire or already have.

More is better is a chase with no end and a race without winners. It’s like a hamster wheel that we hop onto, get going, and then forget how to stop. Eventually, the chase for more becomes an addictive exercise, and as with any addiction, it’s almost impossible to stop the process when you’re in its grip. But no matter how far you go, or how fast, or how many other people you pass up, you can’t win. In the mind-set of scarcity, even too much is not enough.

The unquestioned, unchecked drive for more fuels an unsustainable economy, culture, and way of being that has failed us by blocking our access to the deeper, more meaningful aspects of our lives and ourselves.

The third toxic myth is that’s just the way it is, and there’s no way out. There’s not enough to go around, more is definitely better and the people who have more are always people who are other than us. It’s not fair, but we’d better play the game because that’s just the way it is, and it’s a hopeless, helpless, unequal, unfair world where you can never get out of this trap.

That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way, and tradition, assumption, or habits make it resistant to change, then it seems logical, just commonsensical, that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when and where the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation to scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless and cynical.

We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t a way it is or way it isn’t. There is the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances.

It has been ten years since my first encounter with the indigenous Achuar people of Ecuador, but I can still remember the experience of meeting them and being among them for the first time — a completely different kind of experience from my first encounter with hunger and poverty in India. In the rain forest with the Achuar, I saw a people who were naturally prosperous. They hadn’t won some competitive economic game to be prosperous. They were not prosperous at anyone’s expense. They hadn’t beaten anyone at anything. They were prosperous in the way they were with themselves and one another, living consistent with the true laws, the unchanging laws of the natural world, which ultimately govern us all.

Theirs was a culture with no money in it. It was something they encountered primarily when they ventured out of the forest. It was, for them, an odd, adjunct thing that was not a part of their everyday life or even their consciousness. With no money, no accumulation of goods, and none of the conveniences of our Western lifestyle, still there was no suggestion of scarcity; no lack and no fear that there wouldn’t be enough of what they needed. There was no chase for more, and no resignation to or belief that they were living lives of scarcity. They lived (and still do) in the experience and expression of sufficiency.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. Sufficiency isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration that there is enough, and that we are enough.

Sufficiency resides in each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.

In our relationship with money, it is using money in a way that expresses our integrity; using it in a way that expresses value rather than determines value.

Sufficiency is not a message about simplicity or about cutting back and lowering expectations. Sufficiency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive or aspire. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources. When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity.

Sufficiency as a way of being offers us enormous personal freedom and possibility. Rather than scarcity’s myths that tell us that the only way to perceive the world is there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is, the truth of sufficiency asserts that there is enough for everyone. Knowing that there is enough inspires sharing, collaboration, and contribution.

We may not be managing our lives and the world in a way that makes that experience available to us all the time, but in truth there is enough, and any real abundance or plenty flows not from excess, but from our recognition of sufficiency, the affirmation that there is enough.

We aren’t mindless, greedy monsters, but the fear of scarcity has us wrapping our hands around as much as we can get and grasping for more. As long as we hold on to that fear we’re trapped by it, hands full, but hearts fearful and unfulfilled. When we let go of trying to get more of what we don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what we have.

Lynne Twist — a global activist, fundraiser, speaker, consultant, and author — has dedicated her life to global initiatives that serve the best instincts in all of us. She has raised hundreds of millions of dollars and trained thousands of fundraisers to be more effective in their work. An original staff member of The Hunger Project, an organization started in 1977 to end world hunger, Lynne served as a leader of this global initiative for 20 years. During those years she created and managed the worldwide fundraising operation. As she traveled the world learning how to work in a multitude of different cultures, Lynne developed profound wisdom about our relationship to money and the way it governs, dominates, and stresses our lives. The compelling stories and insights gained from her experiences inspire Lynne’s keynotes and workshops, and are the foundation for her best selling, award winning book The Soul of Money. Lynne founded the Soul of Money Institute to express her commitment to supporting and empowering people in finding peace and sufficiency in their relationship with money and the money culture.